Pet Dental Health Guide: How to Take Care of Your Dog or Cat’s Oral Hygiene
Wide eyes, a wagging tail, and stinky breath. Is that your pet? Well, if you’re nodding yes, we hope you know that we’ve got a problem!
Dental Health is an aspect of a pet’s well-being that one may not take as seriously. But trust us, that stinky breath is a warning sign of something or everything that might be going wrong and needs immediate address. And whether you’re dealing with a stinky breath from your furriend at this moment or not, it’s about time you get serious, very serious about their dental health. Dental diseases are very common in dogs and cats. According to the AVMA, 80% of our dogs and 70% of cats are known to show signs of some kind of gum disease by the age of three.
February is Pet Dental Health Awareness Month, a good time for you to know all there is, and make it a ritual. We’ll try to tell you all you need to know about your pet’s teeth and how you can maintain oral hygiene for your best friend to the T.
Importance of Oral Hygiene in Pets
Why take care of your dog or cat’s teeth
Domestication has made our cats and dogs completely dependent on us for all their bodily needs. When out in the wild, our pawsome friends would feed on prey. The tearing of meat would provide them with the help their teeth needed to get rid of the plaque and tartar build-up. However, their habitat and diets have changed, making us their advocate and guardian.
How lightly we’ve taken our pet’s oral hygiene is evident from the fact that periodontal diseases (infections of the structures around the teeth) are among the most common health problems in dogs and cats. They begin in the mouth, but go on to affect other internal organs of your pet’s body.
But that’s not all. From palate defects to even cancer, a lot could be going on. Bad breath in your pooch is no laughing matter and simply turning your face away from it isn’t going to help.
Symptoms of Dental Problems in Pets
Warning signs you must watch out for
Being vigilant comes as a given for being a responsible pet-parent. If you haven’t ever looked inside your pet’s mouth, now is the time. You need to be on the watch for anything that appears abnormal. Do not hesitate to consult your vet regarding the slightest, smallest abnormalities. When it comes to our pet’s Dental Health, we’ve listed some warning signs that must not be ignored.
- Bad Breath
If you are a believer that the breath of your pet is supposed to smell foul, you have been mistaken. If face licks have turned intolerable, and you can’t help but hold your breath, know that something’s up.
- Broken or Loose Teeth
Breaking or loosening of permanent teeth is not common in dogs or cats. If your pet has a broken or loose tooth that is not from an injury, there is an underlying health issue that needs a diagnosis.
- Discoloration of Teeth
Just like you (we’re assuming), your dog or cat’s teeth also need to be pearly white. Think of the color they were when the permanent set grew in. They need to at least be largely white, if not completely. If you observe discoloration, even in a single tooth, time to go say hello to your vet.
- Excessive Drooling
Some dogs drool. Others don’t. A lot about how much drooling is normal will depend on your pet’s breed. Breeds like Mastiffs and Saint Bernards are known for drooling. But all dogs may drool from time to time. Usually when they are anticipating something like a walk, food or playtime. They could even drool when they are anxious. However, if you’ve been observant you should know your pet’s drooling pattern. If your pet has been drooling unreasonably it is a sign that they may be experiencing an underlying pain.
- Abnormal Chewing
Ever sat in adoration watching your dog or cat devour his favorite bowl of food? Unarguably the most satisfying feeling ever. Now, if you see your pet chewing abnormally, they could be doing so to soothe irritation in their mouth. And that’s definitely not something to Aww over.
- Reduced Appetite
Even the greatest of gluttons will succumb to a toothache. They would want to avoid the whole process of having to chew or swallow food. It’s the same with pets. A sudden drop in appetite is never a good sign.
- Swelling in and around the mouth
Swelling should ideally be observable. If you see the insides (tongue or gums) or outsides of your pet’s mouth swelling up, it is a cause of concern. This swelling may be accompanied with drooling, bad breath or any of the above signs.
- Bleeding from the mouth
If you’ve observed or have been observing bleeding in or from your pet’s mouth, we really hope you’ve visited the vet already. Bleeding is never normal and could be a sign of the most nightmarish of issues you could expect.
A lot of the above symptoms may usually show up in combinations. But they must not be ignored even on their own.
Causes of Dental Issues & Diseases in Pets
What could be going wrong?
If you’ve been lax about your pet’s dental hygiene to a point where any of the above symptoms have manifested, there’s a lot that could be up. Only a qualified veterinarian can be of utmost help to you. However, we’ve put down some common diseases that could be behind the pain and discomfort that your pet has been experiencing.
As we spoke about above, Periodontal Diseases are the most common health condition in dogs and cats. About 80% dogs and 70% cats will develop signs of these by 3 years of age if their dental health is neglected.
What exactly are Periodontal Diseases?
When the buildup of plaque is not eliminated through brushing, tartar is formed. Tartar (or calculus) sticks firmly to the teeth and can be clearly seen. The issue begins when this tartar penetrates under the gumline. They start causing damage to the tissues supporting the teeth which leads to loosening or breaking of teeth. This tartar under the gumline also releases toxins, which cause the pet’s immune system to respond. The white blood cells try to eliminate the toxins. But instead, end up causing damage to the surrounding tissues.
Effects of periodontal diseases within the oral cavity include damage or loss of gum tissue and bones around the teeth, development of a hole or fistula from the oral cavity to the nasal passage causing nasal discharge, weakening or fractures of the jaw, and bone infection. Bacteria from the mouth can also enter the bloodstream and cause microscopic changes to the liver, kidneys, and heart.
Fig 1: Normal Tooth & Gums
Fig 2: Gingivitis
Fig 3: Periodontitis
Prognosis of periodontal diseases isn’t the best. And often times it’s too late and the severity of the disease has multiplied. Know that if your dog has misaligned teeth, the possibility of contracting a periodontal disease increases. Gingivitis (inflammation/reddening of gums) and Periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth) are the two common types of periodontal diseases.
Treatment may include a professional dental cleaning to remove the tartar and plaque build-up. Dental Radiographs may be done to understand the extent of the damage. If Periodontitis is identified, different treatments may be used to save the teeth, while severely affected ones may be extracted. Note that general anesthesia may be administered in all these methods.
Oral Cysts or Tumors
An adult dog is supposed to have 42 teeth and an adult cat, 30. If your pet has a tooth missing which hasn’t been extracted, there are two possibilities. Either the teeth did not develop at all, or is still unerupted or impacted under the gums. Sometimes when a tooth is unerupted, it lies dormant and nothing happens. However, other times the tooth can develop an oral cyst.
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. Cysts can be cancerous or non-cancerous. But in either case they require proper diagnosis and treatment. Generally considered benign in the sense that they do not affect other tissues, oral cysts can destroy teeth and weaken the jaw enough to cause a fracture.
The treatment of oral cysts involves the complete surgical removal of the cyst. Your veterinarian may later have a biopsy of the cyst done to rule out oral melanoma or other life-threatening conditions. The surrounding teeth may also be examined during the time of surgery. A root canal may follow.
Other oral masses around the lips, tongue, gums or surrounding lymph regions are not all cancerous. But the ones that are, can grow malignant and even be fatal if not treated early and aggressively.
While any pet may develop oral masses, breeds like Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, and Cocker Spaniels are genetically predisposed.
Treatment of these masses involve a biopsy to examine if it is cancerous, and to what extent it has spread if it is. It may be followed by surgical removal. If the situation has escalated, radiation and chemotherapy may be needed along with the surgery.
An Ideal Dental Care Routine
How to take care of your dog or cat’s teeth
Dental Care is not a periodic activity, you can only make the best out of it by establishing a routine. Having a dental care routine is as essential as feeding your pet the right food and exercising them enough. Here’s what your routine should consist of and how you can introduce your pet to it.
There are two musts to a basic dental care routine – Brushing at Home and Dental Clean-ups:
- Visit your vet for a dental check-up periodically. Have them examine your pet’s mouth for signs of periodontal diseases or any other cause of concern. Ensure you have an oral examination during every vet visit.
- Get a pet toothbrush. One with soft bristles or a finger brush should do. Also get a pet toothpaste. You cannot use your own toothpaste to brush your pet’s teeth. The Fluoride in human toothpaste can cause diarrhea, while Xylitol in it can even be fatal. Leave the dawgie toothpaste out for a day or two to let your pet smell and get comfortable with it.
- Take some toothpaste on the brush and let them taste it. Reward them with a treat and appreciation after. The goal is to establish letting you use the toothbrush and toothpaste on them as reward-worthy.
- After you’re successful with the previous step, you can introduce them to the sensation of brushing. Pull their lips back and stroke the sides for good access. Don’t make the routine too long initially. You may not be able to reach the innermost parts on the first day itself and that’s alright. Continue this for a couple of days.
- Once your pet is used to having his teeth brushed, you can go ahead with a thorough brushing. Don’t let the process exceed 30 seconds. Remember to keep it fun to build a routine.
Now that your pet is used to having his teeth brushed, follow the routine at least 2-3 times a week.
Along with regular brushing, you must take your pet to the vet for dental clean-up once a year. During this clean-up, your vet will perform a thorough cleaning of the accumulated plaque. This clean-up will be done under general anesthesia, however, your pet should be up on their feet within 10-15 minutes of the procedure. After the clean-up, you must not resume regular brushing for about 10 days.
Pet Food and Dental Health
Food plays an important role in your pet’s dental health upkeep. A common misconception is that if your pet is feeding on a dry kibble diet, their oral hygiene will be maintained already. If you’ve observed your pet eat, you know that most pets tend to quickly swallow the food without really chewing well. This eliminates any possibility of dry pet food providing any help to oral hygiene. Gravy based pet foods tend to stick to your pet’s teeth and insides of the mouth, causing decay.
You may have also come across a lot of dental-care products for your pet, like dental chews. Some may even suggest rawhide as a good way to keep your pet’s dental health in check. However, a simple web search will tell you their ingredients and how these products are made. And we bet you will never want to let them be even near your love.
A good, natural and safe alternative to these are raw bones and crunchy vegetables like carrots and green beans. Refrain from giving your pet cooked bones, as they may splinter and hurt them or cause a choking hazard. You can also bring in some chewtoys or rope-toys for your pet to play with or DIY them.
It is important for your pet to feed on a mix of real food and natural chewables to ensure that they get a balanced and nutritious diet while maintaining perfect oral hygiene.
Oral Hygiene is super important for your pet’s dental health. Even the simplest signs of periodontal diseases or other oral issues cannot be neglected. Brush your pet’s teeth regularly, using only a pet-safe toothpaste. Human toothpaste is toxic and must be out of your dawgie’s reach at all times. Ensure that your pet eats a real, healthy and balanced diet and drinks ample water. Stay clear of synthetic preparations marketed as dental-care products. It doesn’t take a lot to care for your dog or cat’s teeth. But failing to take proper care can result in a lot of pain and suffering. And neither you nor your furry baby deserves it!
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